Green is the colour of hope. Green is the colour of clean energy. And green was the colour of the New York night on Sunday 23 September, when the most famous buildings in the Big Apple, from the Empire State Building to Madison Square Garden, were bathed in the colour that symbolises the health of the planet to announce a very special week for both the city and the future of the Earth. The headquarters of the United Nations are located in New York and in some respects this makes it the capital of the world. And during the last week of September the world’s eyes were watching the city as it hosted the 73rd General Assembly of the United Nations. This coincided with the United Nations Global Compact Leaders Summit and the 10th edition of Climate Week, one of the world’s most important events dedicated to climate.
2030 Agenda: connect the dots of sustainable development
If connecting the dots creates the future, to paraphrase Steve Jobs, then these three international events had many points in common. First and foremost, the UN 2030 Agenda, which was adopted three years ago, is still the guiding light for sustainability in the world. It is perhaps the only truly multilateral agenda on the planet, a plan shared by governments, businesses and civil society, albeit one that is proceeding “too slowly,” as the UN Secretary-General António Guterres lamented, in opening the Global Compact Leaders Summit. Guterres made an appeal to businesses and, connecting the dots, recalled the Paris Climate Agreement: “Your role is to mobilise civil society. Climate change is the most important issue of our time but, in many parts of the world, governments are not doing enough, and businesses and civil society must push them. We have to move faster than we are, or else the consequences will be devastating.”
This theme – of the central role of businesses – was also mentioned the evening before at the meeting of the Board of the Global Compact, presided by Guterres, and attended by Enel CEO and General Manager Francesco Starace, who was nominated to the Board for a second mandate (2018-2021) last June.
The Global Compact, which was launched in 2000, is the broadest initiative to promote a sustainable global economy through businesses and includes 9,500 companies from 160 countries. This year, our Group, which has been a member since 2004, was also recognised as a LEAD company “for demonstrating ongoing commitment to the UN Global Compact and its 10 principles for responsible business.”
Sustainable development goals: climate action for peace
Francesco Starace also took part in the UN Secretary-General’s Summit on Financial Innovation and the Private Sector Forum at the Leaders Summit. Here one of the panels was dedicated to peace, in honour of the centenary of the birth of Nelson Mandela, who was remembered in New York both by his grandson, Ndaba Mandela, and by the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa. Peace is not only one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG #16), it is also linked to many of the others, even SDG #13 “Climate Action”, given that, as it was reminded, the effects of global warming include migration and famine. By choosing sustainable action and the creation of shared value rather than philanthropy, businesses can contribute to promoting peace.
Another meeting at the Leaders Summit, the CEO Roundtable, was chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, Amina Mohammed. It brought together representatives of global business, politics and civil society, including Antonio Cammisecra, the CEO of Enel Green Power, and the discussion focussed on human rights and equality.
Climate change: looking at Paris 2015
The opening ceremony of the Climate Week (24-30 September) also made it clear that sustainability is now a part of many multinationals’ business strategy. The annual event is organised by the non-profit The Climate Group, in coordination with the UN and the city of New York. This year the key phrase was “accelerating decarbonisation” in order to reach the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement. The start was encouraging. The Governor of California, Jerry Brown, announced that his State will hit 60% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% by 2045. The Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, promised 100% renewables by 2050 and announced 300 billion dollars of investment in sustainability projects in the Pacific, while the President of Peru, Martín Vizcarra, reported that his country had immediately adopted the objectives of the Paris Agreement into law, defining them a “moral imperative.”
Jovenal Moïse, President of Haiti, one of the countries most affected by global warming, used the Climate Week stage to appeal to investors and venture capitalists: “Put your money where your mouth is.”
The Year of Electricity
Enel CEO Francesco Starace, who is himself a keen cyclist, used a cycling metaphor to encourage optimism. During a mountain climb – he explained – you should never look up at the summit, only the next bend: when you’ve made it to the top, you can look back at the road that has been taken. Over the last 10 years much progress has been made: just think of the exponential growth of renewables. Francesco Starace explained that, thanks to digital technology and the progress in materials science, the cost of energy has dropped and the use of electricity is growing and expanding into new areas. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), 2018 is the Year of Electricity: and, while there has been an increase in the demand for energy, the request for renewable energy has doubled.
“By leveraging the growing market competitivity of renewables and the development of storage systems, electricity can bring about a reduction in greenhouse gases in sectors where decarbonisation is often more difficult, such as heavy industry, transport, heating and cooling. A deeper penetration of electricity into consumer consumption will be the real turning point in making our economies truly clean”
Francesco Starace, Enel CEO and General Manager
Many companies announced ambitious decarbonisation goals in New York. Brad Smith, the President of Microsoft, talked about zero emissions by 2040 and announced the AI for Earth programme, which will use the group’s technology to work with climate, water, agriculture and biodiversity: “We can build a better industrial revolution.”
Stephen Badger, the Chairman of Mars, the candy multinational, is aiming for complete decarbonisation by 2040 and repeated last year’s pledge for one billion dollars of investment in sustainable projects. Jens Birgersson, the CEO of the Rockwool Group, continued the theme of energy efficiency, while Yoshinori Yamashita, the CEO of Ricoh, the global printer producers, evoked the triple declaration of love made by the group’s founder, Kiyoshi Ichimura: love your neighbour, love your work and love your planet. In 1936, he was already looking towards the future, connecting the dots.